Ursula Dräger, M.D.Ursula Dräger, M.D.

Faculty Appointment:

UMass Medical School Department of Psychiatry

Academic Background

M.D., University of Tübingen, Germany, 1969
Dr.Med., University of Göttingen, Germany,1970 (Dissertation in medicine)

Research Interests

Dr. Dräger's long-term interests lie in the basic mechanisms that cause complex brain diseases in humans. Because the mouse was emerging as the closest experimental species for research into the genetic basis of human brain disorders, she initially established electrophysiological investigations of the murine visual system. With neurophysiological, cell-biological and molecular techniques she and her colleagues analyzed visual development and function in a range of genetic and environmental brain abnormalities for the mouse. After discovering enzymes that synthesize retinoic acid in the eye, her group embarked on the characterization of the Vitamin A system. Vitamin A, or retinol, is an essential nutrient; its derivative retinaldehyde forms the light-sensitive molecule of the retina for vision, and its derivative retinoic acid regulates gene expression; about a sixth of the human genome is estimated to be regulated by retinoic acid. Dr. Dräger’s group studied the characteristics of retinoic-acid actions in the developing mouse brain. Because information on complete genomes is now available, which allows extrapolating data between species, the charting of differential gene expression at sites of retinoic-acid actions in the mouse can be integrated via genomic data banks with results from different techniques in other species. For instance, the cerebral cortex of mice is organized into pervasive domains of differential gene expression all along sites of elevated retinoic-acid levels. These domains correspond anatomically to part of the default mode network and an associated anti-correlated network in the human cortex, an intriguing concept currently emerging in psychiatry. The mouse data seem to provide the gene-expression information for the fMRI-based functional organization in the human cortex.

Contact information:
Phone: (781) 642-0174
E-mail: Ursula.Drager@umassmed.edu

Selected Publications

Dräger U.C. (1971) Empirische Untersuchung über die soziale Mobilität chronischer Alkoholiker. Inaugural-Dissertation, Medizinische Fakultät der Universität Göttingen.


Singer W. and Dräger U.C. (1972) Postsynaptic potentials in relay neurons of cat lateral geniculate nucleus after stimulation of the mesencephalic reticular formation. Brain Res. 41: 214-220.

Dräger U.C. (1974) Autoradiography of tritiated proline and fucose transported transneuronally from the eye to the visual cortex in pigmented and albino mice. Brain Res. 82: 284-292.

Dräger U.C. and Hubel D.H. (1975) Physiology of visual cells in mouse superior colliculus and correlation with somatosensory and auditory input. Nature 253: 203-204.

Dräger U.C. (1975) Receptive fields of single cells and topography in mouse visual cortex. J Comp. Neurol. 160: 269-290.

Dräger U.C. and Hubel D.H. (1975) Responses to visual stimulation and relationship between visual, auditory and somatosensory inputs in mouse superior colliculus. J. Neurophysiol. 38: 690-713.

Dräger U.C. and Hubel D.H. (1976) Topography of visual and somatosensory projections to mouse superior colliculus. J. Neurophysiol. 39: 91-101.

Dräger U.C. (1976) Reeler mutant mice: Physiology in primary visual cortex. Exp. Brain Res., Suppl.1: 274-276.

Dräger U.C. (1977) Abnormal neural development in mammals. In: G.S. Stent Ed., Function and Formation of Neural Systems, Dahlem Konferenzen, Berlin, pp 111-138.

Dräger U.C. (1978) Observations on monocular deprivation in mice. J. Neurophysiol. 41: 28-42.

Dräger U.C. and Hubel D.H. (1978) Studies of visual function and its decay in mice with hereditary retinal degeneration. J. Comp. Neurol. 180: 85-114.

Dräger U.C. and Olsen J.F. (1980) Origins of crossed and uncrossed projections in pigmented and albino mice. J. Comp. Neurol. 191: 383-412.

Dräger U.C. and Olsen J.F. (1981) Ganglion-cell distribution in the retina of the mouse. Invest. Ophthal. Vis. Sci. 20: 285-293.

Dräger U.C. (1981) Observations on the organization of the visual cortex in the reeler mouse. J. Comp. Neurol. 201: 555-570.

Balkema G.W., Pinto L.H., Dräger U.C. and Vanable J.W. (1981) Characterization of abnormalities in the visual system of the mutant mouse pearl. J. Neurosci. 1: 1320-1329.

Dräger U.C. (1983) Coexistence of neurofilaments and vimentin in a neuron of the adult mouse retina. Nature 303: 169-172.

Dräger U.C., Edwards D.L. and Kleinschmidt J. (1983) Neurofilaments contain alpha-melanocyte-stimulating hormone (alpha-MSH)-like immunoreactivity. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 80: 6408-6412.

Barnstable CJ and Dräger U.C. (1984) Thy-1 antigen: a ganglion cell specific marker in rodent retina. Neuroscience 1: 847-855.

Dräger U.C., Edwards D.L. and Barnstable C.J. (1984) Antibodies against filamentous proteins in discrete cell types of the mouse retina J. Neurosci. 4: 2025-2042.

Dräger U.C. and Hofbauer A. (1984) Antibodies to heavy neurofilament subunit detect a subpopulation of damaged ganglion cells in retina. Nature 309: 624-626.

Dräger U.C. (1985) Neurofilaments in retinas of normal mice and of mice with hereditary photoreceptor loss. In: Hereditary and Visual Development, S.R. Hilfer, J. Sheffield, and L. Tompkins, eds, Cell and Developmental Biology of the Eye. pp 443-62.

Hofbauer A. and Dräger U.C. (1985) Depth segregation of retino-tectal projections in the mouse. J. Comp. Neurol. 234: 465-474.

Dräger U.C. (1985) Birth dates of retinal ganglion cells giving rise to the crossed and uncrossed optic projections in the mouse. Proc. R Soc. Lond. B 224: 57-77.

Balkema G.W. and Dräger U.C. (1985) Light-dependent antibody labelling of photoreceptors. Nature 316: 630-633.

Dräger U.C. (1985) Calcium binding in pigmented and albino eyes. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 82: 6716-6720.

Dräger U.C. (1986) Albinism and visual pathways. N. Engl. J. Med. 314: 1636-1638.

Nixon R.A., Lewis S.E., Marotta C.A., Dahl D. and Dräger U.C. (1989) Early posttranslational modification of the three neurofilament subunits in retinal ganglion cells: Neuronal localization and time course in relation to subunit polymerization and axonal transport. Molecular Brain Res. 5: 93-108.

Ko A.I., Dräger U.C. and Harn D. (1990) A protective oligosaccharide epitope in Schistosoma mansoni is identical to the stage-specific embryonic antigen 1 (SSEA-1). Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, 87: 4159-4163.

Rabacchi S.A., Neve R.L. and Dräger U.C. (1990) A positional marker for the dorsal retina is homologous to the 68kD-laminin receptor. Development 109: 521-531.

Balkema G.W. and Dräger U.C. (1990) Origins of uncrossed retinofugal projections in normal and hypopigmented mice. J. Vis. Neurosci. 4: 595-604.

McCaffery P., Neve R.L. and Dräger U.C. (1990) A dorso-ventral asymmetry in the embryonic retina defined by protein conformation. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 87: 8570-8574.

Balkema G.W. and Dräger U.C. (1991) Impaired visual thresholds in hypopigmented mice and rabbits. J. Vis. Neurosci. 6: 577-585.

McCaffery P., Tempst P., Lara G. and Dräger U.C. (1991) Aldehyde dehydrogenase is a positional marker in the retina. Development 112: 693-702.

Tiedge, H., Dräger, U.C. and Brosius, J. (1992) Murine BC1 RNA in dendritic fields of the retinal inner plexiform layer. Neurosci. Letters, 141: 136-138.

McCaffery P., Lee M.-O., Wagner M.A., Sladek N.E., and Dräger U.C. (1992) Asymmetrical retinoic acid synthesis in the dorso-ventral axis of the retina. Development 115:371-382.

McCaffery P., Posch, K.C., Napoli, J.L., Gudas, L., and Dräger U.C. (1993) Changing patterns of the retinoic acid system in the developing retina. Dev. Biol 158: 390-399.

McCaffery P. and Dräger U.C. (1994) High levels of a retinoic-acid generating dehydrogenase in the meso-telencephalic dopamine system. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA. 91: 7772-7776

Schmidt, C.J., Zubiaur, M., Valenzuela, D., Neer, E., and Dräger U.C. (1994) Go, a guanine nucleotide binding protein, is expressed during neurite extension in the embryonic mouse. J. Neurosci. Res. 38

McCaffery P. and Dräger U.C. (1994) Hotspots of retinoic acid synthesis in the developing spinal cord. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 91: 7194-7197

Marsh-Armstrong, N., McCaffery, P., Dowling, J.E. , Gilbert, W., Dräger, U.C. (1994) Retinoic acid is necessary for development of the ventral retina in zebrafish. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 91: 7286-7290

McCaffery P. and Dräger U.C. (1995) Retinoic acid synthesizing enzymes in the embryonic and adult vertebrate. Adv. Exp. Med. Biol. 372: 173-183, 1995.

Marsh-Armstrong, N.R., P. McCaffery, G. Hyatt, L. Alonso, W. Gilbert, J.E. Dowling and U.C. Dräger (1995) Retinoic acid in the anteroposterior patterning of the zebrafish trunk. Roux's Arch. Dev. Biol. 205: 103-113.

Hyatt, G., Schmitt, E.A., Marsh-Armstrong, N., McCaffery, P., Dräger, U.C., Dowling, J.E. (1996) Retinoic acid establishes ventral retinal characteristics. Development, 122: 195-204.

Zhao, D., P. McCaffery, K.J. Ivins, R.L. Neve, P. Hogan, W.W. Chin and U.C. Dräger. (1996) Molecular identification of a major retinoic-acid synthesizing enzyme: a retinaldehyde-specific dehydrogenase. Eur. J. Biochem. 240: 15-22.

Yamamoto M., McCaffery P. and Dräger U.C. (1996) Influence of the Choroid Plexus on Cerebellar Development: Analysis of Retinoic Acid Synthesis. Developmental Brain Res.93: 182-190.

McCaffery, P., Mey, J. and Dräger, U.C. (1996) Light-mediated retinoic acid production. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 93: 12570-12574.

Dräger, U.C. and McCaffery, P. (1997) Retinoic acid and development of the retina. Progress in Retina and Eye Research, 16: 323-346.

Wagner, E., McCaffery, P., Mey, J., Farhangfar, F., Applebury, M.L. and Dräger, U.C. (1997) Retinoic acid increases arrestin mRNA levels in the mouse retina. FASEB J., 11: 271-275.

Eliasson, M., McCaffery, P., Baughman, R.W. and Dräger, U.C. (1997) A ventro-dorsal GABA gradient in the embryonic retina Prior to expression of GAD. Neuroscience, 79: 863-869.

Niederreither, K., McCaffery, P., Dräger, U.C., Chambon, P. and Dollé, P. (1997) Restricted expression and retinoic acid-induced downregulation of the retinaldehyde dehydrogenase type 2 (RALDH-2) gene during mouse development. Mech. Dev. 62: 67-68.

McCaffery M. and Dräger, U.C. (1997) A sensitive bioassay for enzymes that synthesize retinoic acid. Brain Res. Protocols 1: 232-236.

Mey, J., McCaffery, P. and Dräger, U.C. (1997) Retinoic acid in the developing chick retina. J. Neurosci. 17:7441-7449.

Dräger, U.C., Wagner, E. and McCaffery, P. (1998) Aldehyde dehydrogenases in the generation of retinoic acid in the developing vertebrate: a central role of the eye. J. Nutrition 128: 463S-466S.

Yamamoto M., Dräger U.C., Ong D.E. and McCaffery P. (1998) Retinoid binding proteins in the cerebellum and choroid plexus and their relationship to regionalized retinoic acid synthesis and degradation. Eur. J. Biochem. 257:344-350.

Moss J.B., Xavier-Neto J., Shapiro M., Nayeem M., McCaffery P. Dräger U.C., and Rosenthal N. (1998) Dynamic patterns of retinoic acid synthesis and response in the developing mammalian heart. Dev. Biol. 199:55-71.

Yamamoto M., Ullman D., Dräger U.C. and McCaffery P. (1998) Postnatal effects of retinoic acid on cerebellar development. Neurotoxicol. & Teratol. 21:141-146.

Yamamoto M, Dräger UC, McCaffery P (1998) A novel assay for retinoic acid catabolic enzymes shows high expression in the developing hindbrain. Dev. Brain Res 107:103-111

McCaffery P., Wagner E., O'Neil J., Petkovich, M. and Dräger U.C. (1999) Dorsal and ventral retinal territories defined by retinoic acid synthesis, break-down and nuclear receptor expression. Mech. Dev. 82:119-130.

Berggren K., McCaffery P., Dräger U.C. and Forehand C.J. (1999) Differential distribution of retinoic acid synthesis in the chicken embryo as determined by immunolocalization of the retinoic acid synthetic enzyme RALDH-2. Dev. Biol. 210: 288-304.

Dräger, U. C., E. Wagner, A. Andreadis and P. McCaffery, The role and evolutionary development of retinoic-acid signaling in the eye. In M. A. Livrea (Ed.), Vitamin A and Retinoids: An Update of Biological and Clinical Applications, Birkhäser Publishing Ltd., Basel, 2000.

Wagner, E., P. McCaffery and U. C. Dräger, Retinoic acid in the formation of the dorso-ventral retina and its central projections, Dev. Biol., 222, 460-470, 2000.

McCaffery, P. and U. C. Dräger, Regulation of retinoic acid signaling in the embryonic nervous system: a master differentiation factor, Cytokine and Growth Factor Reviews, 11, 233-249, 2000.

Ross, S. A., P. McCaffery, U. C. Dräger and L. M. De Luca, Retinoids in embryonal development, Physiol. Rev., 80, 1021-1054, 2000.

Li, H., E. Wagner, P. McCaffery, D. Smith, A. Andreadis and U. C. Dräger, A retinoic acid synthesizing enzyme in ventral retina and telencephalon of the embryonic mouse, Mech. Devel., 95, 283-289, 2000.

Dräger, U. C., H. Li, E. Wagner and P. McCaffery, Retinoic acid synthesis and breakdown in the developing mouse retina, Progr. Brain Res., 131, 579-588, 2001

Smith, D., E. Wagner, O. Koul, P. McCaffery and U. C. Dräger, Retinoic acid synthesis for the developing telencephalon, Cerebral Cortex, 11, 894-905, 2001.

Wagner, E., T. Luo and U. C. Dräger, (2002) Retinoic acid synthesis in the postnatal mouse brain marks distinct developmental stages and functional systems, Cerebral Cortex, 12, 1244-53.

Tsai G, Dunham KS, Drager U, Grier A, Anderson C, Collura J, Coyle JT. (2003) Early embryonic death of glutamate carboxypeptidase II (NAALADase) homozygous mutants. Synapse, 50, 285-292

Luo, T., Wagner, E., Grün, F., and Dräger, U. C. (2004). Retinoic acid signaling in the brain marks formation of optic projections, maturation of the dorsal telencephalon, and function of limbic sites. J. Comp. Neurol. 470, 297-316

Sakai, Y., Luo, T., McCaffery, P., Hamada, H., and Dräger, U. C. (2004). CYP26A1 and CYP26C1 cooperate in degrading retinoic acid within the equatorial retina during later eye development. Dev.Biol., 276: 143-157

Luo, T., Wagner, E., Crandall, J.E., and Dräger, U.C. (2004). A retinoic-acid critical period in the early postnatal mouse brain. Biol.Psychiatry 56: 971-980.

Luo, T., Sakai Y, Wagner, E., and Dräger, U. C. (2006). Retinoids, eye development and maturation of visual function. J. Neurobiol., 66: 677-686

Dräger, U. C. (2006). Retinoic acid signaling in the functioning brain. Science STKE 324, pe10.

Wagner, E., T. Luo, Y. Sakai, L. F. Parada and U. C. Dräger (2006) Retinoic acid delineates the topography of neuronal plasticity in postnatal cerebral cortex, Eur J Neurosci, 24: 329-40.

Dräger, U. C., Luo, T. and Wagner, E. (2008) Retinoic Acid Function in Central Visual Pathways. L.M. Chalupa and R. Williams, Eds., Eye, Retina and the Visual Systems of the Mouse, MIT Press, pp. 363-376

Luo T, Wagner E and Dräger UC. (2009) Integrating Retinoic Acid Signaling with Brain Function. Developmental Psychology 45: 139-150.

Sakai, Y., and Dräger, U. (2010). Detection of retinoic acid catabolism with reporter systems and by in-situ hybridization for CYP26 enzymes. Methods Mol Biol 652: 277-294.

Bok J., Raft J., Koo S.K., Dräger U.C., and Wu D.K. (2011) Transient retinoic acid signaling confers anterior-posterior polarity to the inner ear. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, 108:161-166.

Crandall J.E., Goodman T., McCarthy D.M., Bhide P.G., Dräger U.C. and McCaffery P.J. (2011). Retinoic acid influences neuronal migration from the ganglionic eminence to the cerebral wall. J.Neurochem., 119: 723-735.

Dräger U.C. (2011) Postnatal Changes in Retinoic Acid Signaling Delineate Domains with Anti-Correlated Gene Expression in the Medial Cerebral Cortex of Adult Mice. Unifying Themes in Complex Systems, Volume VIII, Proceedings of the Eighth International Conference on Complex Systems, New England Complex Systems Institute Book Series NECSI Knowledge Press, H. Sayama, A.A. Minai, D. Braha, Y. Bar-Yam, Editors; pp.112-113.